Hollywood is in its usual hazy head space when it comes to the Academy Awards race.
The dilemma: Handicapping the players when so many of the potential front-runners have yet to show their game face.
Films such as Ben Affleck's Argo and Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman's The Master already are proven contenders through rapturous reactions from festival crowds.
A handful of US summer releases have a shot at best-picture slots - but that depends on the movies still to come.
Late prospects include Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, The King's Speech director Tom Hooper's musical Les Miserables, The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty and Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in his three-part Rings prelude.
Jackson's three Lord of the Rings films earned best-picture nominations, and the finale won. But since Lord of the Rings, academy overseers expanded the best-picture category from five nominees to as many as 10 to bring in a broader range of films, including action blockbusters that often get overlooked for awards.
Academy bosses cited the best-picture snub of 2008's critical and commercial sensation The Dark Knight as a key example for expanding the category.
With reviews nearly as ecstatic as its predecessor's, the Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises may have a better shot depending on the number of nominees, which will range from five to 10 based on voting results among the nearly 6000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Comic-book adaptations have been money magnets for Hollywood, yet no superhero saga has managed a best-picture nomination so far.
The same may hold for this year's biggest hit, the superhero mash-up The Avengers, which also earned terrific reviews but has little best-picture buzz among Hollywood odds-makers.
A late (northern) summer threesome of film festivals - Venice, Toronto and Telluride - premiered many potential contenders, whose nominations come out on January 10, with the ceremony on February 24.
Among festival prospects: The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Argo, Anna Karenina, director Joe Wright's fanciful adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's tragic romance and Silver Linings Playbook, from director David O Russell.
Earlier independent releases might creep into the best-picture race, among them Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Other possible Oscar contenders include Robert Zemeckis' airline drama Flight, the Alfred Hitchcock tale Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino's bounty-hunter saga Django Unchained and the shipwreck story Life of Pi, from director Ang Lee.